Watch just about any movie set in high school and you'll see the same old stereotypes -- dumb jocks running around chasing balls and smart nerds sitting with their noses buried in books. These well-worn character types make for entertaining comedies, but they're about as realistic as superhero flicks, right?

Actually, maybe not.

A new study gives some limited scientific basis to the idea that smart people are, well, kind of a bunch of couch potatoes (and that the sports inclined might not be, on average, the biggest thinkers).

No exercise please, I'm thinking.

The research was led by Todd McElroy, a psychology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, and followed a straightforward design. Sixty student participants were given a standard psychological test called "Need for Cognition" that has been used for decades to measure how much interest a particular person has in thinking and solving mental problems.

Based on the results the group was divided into 30 thinkers and 30 non-thinkers. Then, all participants were given activity trackers for a week. After seven days the verdict was in -- from Monday to Friday those who are less cognitively inclined were much more active than their brainier counterparts. However, on the weekends activity patterns evened out and both groups were pretty similar.

The findings "makes sense in light of past research from the '90s that showed non-thinkers are more prone to boredom than thinkers, and find boredom more aversive," comments the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog, which highlighted the findings, adding that, "perhaps non-thinkers resort to physical activity as a way to escape their inner worlds."

What do the results mean?

According to the research team, the takeaway from the study is that those folks who know they have a tendency to get lost in their thoughts should think carefully about how to build more activity into their days. "An important factor that may help more thoughtful individuals combat their lower average activity levels is... awareness of their tendency to be less active," they commented.

But BPS suggests caution in interpreting the study (as tempting as it might be to revel in conformation of those high school stereotypes). "Remember this research featured just 60 people, and the results might not generalize to non-students or to other cultures," it warns.

Still, given the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the proven benefits of exercise, there seems to be no downside to a gentle nudge for the thinkers among us to get up from their books and computers a little more often, even if this study isn't definitive.

Do you find your life experience lines up with these findings?

Published on: Sep 1, 2016
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